2007: Killings Decrease, but Rights Violations Continue

“It is important we (Americans) do not have blood on our hands… If we are training the (Philippine) military with our hard-earned tax dollars, our concern about the military cannot be discounted.”

“(The) war on terror cannot be used as an excuse to kill innocent civilians,” Boxer also said. She also proposed that the U.S. Senate should “tie some strings around military aid.”

Later that month Arroyo, Bush and their governments were found guilty by the PPT, which declared that the Philippines’ membership in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) “undermines the credibility of the UN” and that it is “an intolerable offense to the victims” and “a denial of the many well-documented denunciations of the dramatic violations of human rights.”

Last August, Reps. James Oberstar of Minnesota’s 8th district and Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania’s 16th district with 49 other U.S. congressmen presented a bi-partisan letter addressed to Arroyo.

“The Philippines is our friend and ally, but we cannot tolerate the unacceptable human rights violations in the Philippines,” the letter read. “Just this year, it is estimated that pre-election violence claimed at least 110 victims before the May 14th mid-term congressional elections.”

Last month, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Prof. Philip Alston directly pointed to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as the perpetrators of the extrajudicial killings. Said Alston:

“Over the past six years, there have been many extrajudicial executions of leftist activists in the Philippines. These killings have eliminated civil society leaders, including human rights defenders, trade unionists and land reform advocates, intimidated a vast number of civil society actors, and narrowed the country’s political discourse. Depending on who is counting and how, the total number of such executions ranges from 100 to over 800. Counter-insurgency strategy and recent changes in the priorities of the criminal justice system are of special importance to understanding why the killings continue.

“Many in the Government have concluded that numerous civil society organizations are ‘fronts’ for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed group, the New People’s Army (NPA). One response has been counter-insurgency operations that result in the extrajudicial execution of leftist activists. In some areas, the leaders of leftist organizations are systematically hunted down by interrogating and torturing those who may know their whereabouts, and they are often killed following a campaign of individual vilification designed to instill fear into the community. The priorities of the criminal justice system have also been distorted, and it has increasingly focused on prosecuting civil society leaders rather than their killers.”

Writ of amparo

Meanwhile, a key local victory was scored with the Supreme Court’s promulgation of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo also this year. The writ of amparo was among other things the result of a summit on extrajudicial killings organized by the Supreme Court, in which Karapatan and several people’s organizations took part.

Under the Rule of the Writ of Amparo, aggrieved parties or qualified persons may file petitions for the writ in the following order: any member of the immediate family, namely: the spouse, children and parents of the aggrieved party; any ascendant, descendant or collateral relative of the aggrieved party within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, in default of members of the immediate family; or any concerned citizen, organization, association or institution, if there is no known member of the immediate family or relative of the aggrieved party. The Rule provides that both public officials or employees and private persons may be named as respondents to petitions for the writ of amparo. The following interim reliefs are available to petitioners: temporary protection order, inspection order, production order, and witness protection order.

The temporary protection requires that the petitioner or aggrieved party or any member of the immediate family be extended protection by a government agency or any accredited person or private institution capable of ensuring their safety. The protection may be extended to the officers involved if the petitioner is an organization. The Supreme Court is to accredit the persons or institutions that would extend temporary protection to the petitioners, aggrieved parties, or members of the immediate family.

The inspection order requires that persons in possession of any designated land or other property allow entry “for the purpose of inspecting, measuring, surveying, or photographing the property or any relevant object or operation thereon.”

The production order requires that persons in possession, custody or control of designated “documents, papers, books, accounts, letters, photographs, objects or tangible things, or objects in digitized or electronic form, which constitute or contain evidence relevant to the petition” to produce these and allow their inspection.

A.M. No. 07-9-12-SC provides that if either the inspection order or the production order is opposed on grounds of “national security or of the privileged nature of the information,” the court, judge or justices issuing the writ shall conduct hearings on the merits of the opposition.

Meanwhile, under the witness protection order, witnesses are to be referred to the Department of Justice (DoJ) for admission to the Witness Protection Program provided for by Republic Act No. 6981.

Other violations continue

Although international pressure resulting from the campaigns of human rights and people’s organizations have brought down the number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, other human rights violations continue.

“The civil, political, economic and social rights of every Filipino are being violated by this dangerous, fascist regime,” Enriquez said. “Arroyo’s continued implementation of her counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch) II, the Anti-Terror Law and other draconian measures show her blatant disregard for the growing criticism of her regime’s human rights record.”

Karapatan’s 2007 Human Rights Report documents a total of 330 human rights violations this year, with 16,307 victims all in all. The victims already include the 68 who were extrajudicially killed and the 26 who were forcibly disappeared. There were 293 violations of civil and political rights with a total of 14,384 victims, 23 violations of economic, social and cultural rights with a total of 1,887 victims, and 14 violations of international humanitarian law with a total of 36 victims.

Of the 16,307 people victimized by human rights violations this year 7,542 were forcibly evacuated or displaced, 116 were illegally detained, 300 were victimized in violent dispersals of mass actions, and 29 were tortured.

Enriquez said only Arroyo’s ouster can improve the human rights situation in the country.

“It is not enough to just change a policy; the source of this policy must be removed,” Enriquez said. “Mrs. Gloria Arroyo must go.”(Bulatlat.com)

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